For years, we—along with many others—have decried the dearth of information available on the career outcomes of new Ph.D scientists. Very few academic departments track their doctoral graduates' employment histories. As a result, graduate students and grad school applicants find it difficult to realistically evaluate the opportunities their years of study could open for them. (Professional schools like medical schools and law schools, by comparison, have little difficulty finding out and reporting where their alumni's career paths take them. But for some reason—maybe not wanting to know the truth—scholarly and scientific departments that otherwise specialize in collecting and analyzing data appear to find this task insurmountable.)
"Advisers and prospective students need something more than a scattered helping of infrequently updated best-case scenarios," writes William Pannapacker at the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article published earlier this week. Pannapacker is an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and a columnist for the Chronicle. "We need externally verified, reasonably comprehensive data about individual programs and maybe even individual advisers," he continues.
"We need externally verified, reasonably comprehensive data about individual programs and maybe even individual advisers."—William Pannapacker
But rather than merely talking about the problem, the Chronicle is doing something about it. Its newly announced Ph.D. Placement Project will try to "figure out a way to gather reliable data about job placements for Ph.D.'s. Who's getting jobs? Where are they? Which doctoral programs are doing well at placing their Ph.D.'s in tenure-track positions? Which are doing poorly? Are many colleges making an effort to help their Ph.D.'s land nonacademic jobs?"
Details of how the effort will work are still in flux, but the Chronicle is asking Ph.D. scientists everywhere to help get it underway. They can share their own experiences through an anonymous survey; suggest methods for collecting, managing, and sharing the information collected; and follow the project by e-mail or Twitter.
Here's hoping that lots of people from lots of fields participate to contribute the robust and useful data needed to fill this long-standing gap in our knowledge of Ph.D. careers.